Gaming Democracy

post by Froolow · 2014-07-30T09:45:31.271Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 27 comments

I live in the UK, which has a very similar voting structure to the US for the purposes of this article. Nevertheless, it may differ on the details, for which I am sorry. I also use a couple of real-life political examples which I hope are uncontroversial enough not to break the unofficial rules here. If they are not, I can change them, because this is a discussion of gaming democracy by exploiting swing seats to push rationalist causes.

Cory Doctrow writes in the Guardian about using Kickstarter-like thresholds to encourage voting for minority parties:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/24/how-the-kickstarter-model-could-transform-uk-elections

He points out that nobody votes for minority parties because nobody else votes for them; if you waste your vote on Yellow then it is one fewer vote that might stop the hated Blue candidate getting in by voting for the not-quite-so-bad Green. He argues that you could use the internet to inform people when some pre-set threshold had been triggered with respect to voting for a minor party and thus encourage them to get out and vote. So for example if the margin of victory was 8000 votes and 9000 people agreed with the statement, “If more than 8000 people agree to this statement, then I will go to the polls on election day and vote for the minority Yellow party”, the minority Yellow party would win power even though none of the original 9000 participants would have voted for Yellow without the information-coordinating properties of the internet.

I’m not completely sure of the argument, but I looked into some of the numbers myself. There are 23 UK seats (roughly equivalent to Congressional Districts for US readers) with a margin of 500 votes or fewer. So to hold the balance of power in these seats you need to find either 500 non-voters who would be prepared to vote the way you tell them, or 250 voters with the same caveats (voters are worth twice as much as non-voters to the aspiring seat-swinger, since a vote taken from the Blues lowers the margin by one, and a vote given to the Greens lowers the margin by one, and every voter is entitled to both take a vote away from the party they are currently voting for and award a vote to any party of their choice). I’ll call the number of votes required to swing a seat the ‘effective voter’ count, which allows for the fact that some voters count for two.

It doesn’t sound impossible to me to reach the effective voter count for some swing constituencies, given that often even extremely obvious parody parties can often win back their deposit (500 actual votes, not even ‘effective votes’).

Doctrow wants to use the information co-ordination system to help minority parties reach a wider audience. I think it could be used in a much more active way to force policy promises on uncontroversial but low-status issues from potential future MPs. Let me take as an example ‘Research funding for transhuman causes’. Most people don’t know what transhumanism is, and most people who do know what it is don’t care. Most people who know what it is and care are basically in support of research into transhuman augmentations, but would definitely rank issues like the economy or defence as more important. There is a small constituency of people who oppose transhumanism outright, but they are not single issue voters either by any means (I imagine opposing transhumanism is strongly correlated with a ‘traditional religious value’ cluster which includes opposing abortion, gay marriage and immigration). Politicians could therefore (almost) costlessly support a small amount of research funding for transhuman, which would almost certainly be a sensible move when averaged across the whole country (either you discover something cool, in which case your population is made better off and your army more powerful or you don’t, and in the worst case you get a decent multiplier effect to the economy that comes from employing a load of material scientists and bioengineers). However we know that they won’t do this because while the benefits to the country might be great, the minor cost of supporting a low-status (‘weird’) project is borne entirely by the individual politician. What I mean by this is that the politician will probably not lose any votes by publically supporting transhumanism, but will lose status among their peers and will want to avoid this. There’s also a small risk of losing votes by supporting transhuman causes from the ‘traditional value’ cluster and no obvious demographic with whom supporting transhuman causes gains votes.

This indicates to me that if enough pro-transhumans successfully co-ordinated their action, they could bargain with the politicians standing for office. Let us say there are unequivocally enough transhumans to meet the effective voter threshold for a particular constituency. One person could go round each transhuman (maybe on that city’s subreddit) and get them to agree in principle to vote for whichever candidate will agree to always vote ‘Yes’ on research funding for transhuman causes, up to a maximum of £1bn. Each transhuman might have a weak preference for Blues vs Greens or vice versa, but the appeal is made to their sense of logic; each Blue vote is cancelled out by each Green vote, but each ‘Transhuman’ vote is a step closer to getting transhumanism properly funded, and transhumanism is more important than any marginal policy difference between the two parties. You then go to each candidate and present the evidence that the ‘transhuman’ block has the power to swing the election and is well co-ordinated enough to vote as a bloc on election day. If both candidates agree that they will vote ‘Yes’ on the bills you decided on, then send round an electronic message saying – essentially – “Vote your conscience”. If one candidate says ‘Yes’ and the other ‘No’ send round a message saying “Vote Blue” (or Green). If both candidates say ‘no’ send a message saying “Vote for the Transhuman Party (which is me)” in the hope that you can demonstrate you really did hold the balance of power, to increase the weight of your negotiation in the future.

If the candidate then goes back on their word, you slash and burn the constituency and make sure that no matter what the next candidate from that party promises, they lose. Also ensure that if that candidate ever stands in a marginal seat again, they lose (effectively ending their political career). This gives a strong incentive for MPs to vote the way they promised, and for parties to allow them to vote the way they promised.

Incidentally my preferred promise to extract from the candidates (and I don’t think this works in America) is to bring a bill with a particular wording if they win a Private Members’ Ballot (a system whereby junior members enter a lottery to see whose idea for a bill gets a ‘reading’ in the House of Commons, and hence a chance of becoming a law). For example, “This house would fund £1bn worth of transhumanism basic research over the next four years”. This is because it forces MPs to take a position on an issue they otherwise would not want to touch (because it is low-status) and one way out of this bind is to pretend the issue was high-status all along, which would be a good outcome for transhumanism as it means people might start funding it without the complicated information-coordination game I describe above.

One issue with this is that some groups – for example; Eurosceptics – are happy to single issue vote already, and there are far more Eurosceptics than there are rationalists in the UK. A US equivalent – as far as I understand – might be gun rights activists; they will vote for whatever party deregulates guns furthest, regardless of any other policies they might have and they are very numerous. This could be a problem, since a more numerous coalition will always beat a less numerous coalition at playing this information coordination game.

The first response is that it might actually be OK if this occurs. Being a Eurosceptic in no way implies a particular position on transhuman issues, so a politician could agree to the demands of the Eurosceptic bloc and transhuman bloc without issue. The numbers problem only occurs if a particular position automatically implies a position on another issue, so if there was a large single-issue anti-transhuman voting bloc, and there isn’t. There is a small problem if someone is both a Eurosceptic and a transhuman, since you can only categorically agree to vote the way one bloc tells you, but this is a personal issue where you have to decide which issue is more important and not a problem with the system as it stands.

The second response is that you are underestimating the difficulty of co-ordinating a vote in this way. For example, Eurosceptics – as a rule – will want to vote for the minority UKIP party to signal their affiliation with Eurosceptic issues. No matter what position the candidates agree to on Europe, UKIP will always be more extreme on European issues, since the candidate can only agree to sufficiently mainstream policies that the vote-cost of agreeing to the policy publically is less than the vote-gain of gaining the Eurosceptic bloc. Therefore there will be considerable temptation to defect and vote UKIP in the event of successfully coordinating a policy pledge from a candidate since the voter has a strong preference for UKIP over any other party. Transhumans – it is hypothesised – have a stronger preference for marginal gains in transhuman funding over any policy difference between the two major parties and so getting them to ‘hold their nose’ and vote for a candidate they would otherwise not want to is easier.

It is not just transhumanism that this vote-bloc scheme might work for, but transhumanism is certainly a good example. In my mind you could co-ordinate any issue where the proposed voting bloc is:

  1. Intelligent enough to understand why voting for a candidate you don’t like might result in outcomes you do like
  2. Sufficiently politically unaffiliated that voting for a party they disapprove of is a realistic prospect (hence I’m picking issues young people care about, since they typically don’t vote)
  3. Sufficiently internet-savvy that coordinating by email / reddit is a realistic prospect.
  4. Unopposed by any similar-sized or larger group which fits the above three criteria.
  5. Cares more about this particular issue than any other issue which fits the above four criteria

Some other good examples of this might be opposing homeopathy on the NHS, encouraging Effective Altruism in government foreign aid, spending a small portion of the Defence budget on FAI and so on.

Are there any glaring flaws I’ve missed?

27 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-07-30T10:23:14.997Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you focus to much on the aspect of democracy that is about voting. A lot of the ways politicians come to vote the way they vote is because of the general public debate.

If you look at an issue like Effective Altruism, no one did really the grunt work of thinking about the issue in depth to help a politician implement it. A while ago I was talking to someone at a German Lesswrong meetup who both had the interest of entering politics as a member of the pirate party and who cared about Effective Altruism. I suggested to him and go and write a detailed policy paper for the pirate party about what kind of Effective Altruism actions the pirate party would support if they would get elected. That would be a good way to both start a political career by being the person behind a major policy agenda in a new party and it would serve the interest of Effective Altruism.

You don't get real political progress by saying: I want more A than B. You get it by actually thinking in detail about new policies that nobody thought about before. This means developing political positions that take more than a paragraph to express.

comment by HopefullyCreative · 2014-07-31T08:36:44.935Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think your not giving some basic mechanics enough credit here. Yes, many people certainly only vote for the main parties because they feel that their vote may be "wasted" on a minor party. However this poses the question "How did the main parties become the main parties anyway?" When considering how to succeed as a minor party that question should inevitably be something that one must answer.

If you look at the behavior and voting patterns of people they are actually quite unconcerned about empirical data. Instead they are concerned with "virtue". Is the candidate "virtuous" in their eyes? Does the party express and support virtues that they hold dear? Big parties campaign on virtues that are broad range and therefore gather a great deal of support. You mentioned gun control opponents in the United States and that is an excellent example of this. These people may actually vary quite a great deal on other "virtue" issues such as homosexual marriage, however they all personally believe that their legal rights are fundamentally secured by an armed and capable populous. Therefore anyone who campaigns on the perceived virtue of "guns are moral, because they defend people and secure our rights" has a large number of potential supporters.

Therefore if one is trying to get a smaller party of the ground the key is instead to take ownership of a series of virtues and run a persuasive campaign to help the public not only accept but believe in these virtues. In other words, the party must relate with the public and the public must relate with it. There are of course mitigating circumstance. The person who controls a "higher virtue" that is as equally accepted as someone who controls a "lower virtue" will win out. This is actually why again opposing gun control in the United States is actually an effective political stratagem. Because people believe their rights are secured by those arms that means all those rights, other virtues are subservient to the ability to own modern effective weapons.

comment by Froolow · 2014-07-31T18:08:34.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I certainly don't disagree with your analysis, but I think I might not have been clear enough with the endgame of this potential strategy; I don't think this is a good strategy to succeed as a minor party, because no matter how virtuous you make transhumanism sound, people are always going to care more about the economy or defence. But I think you can probably find enough people who care more about transhumanism than they do about the marginal difference between the economic policy of the two main parties. So the 'transhuman' party will never get off the ground, but it may have enough power to swing a marginal seat for one of the two main parties, in exchange for agreement to vote a certain way on a certain issue.

Whether or not you could parley that into a successful minor party is a much harder question!

comment by HopefullyCreative · 2014-07-31T18:54:34.451Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So supposing my objective is to successfully express the pro-transhumanism cause in the government. We have already discussed "Is it possible to start a new party along these lines?" We have recognized because transhumanism even accepted by the populous is a "lesser virtue" therefore if it the central virtue of said new party the new party will remain a minor actor on the political scene. When viewing the political situation without bias as a pragmatic man the question then arises "can I subvert a major party to my ends?"

We recognize that the major parties have the strength we need. Therefore we need to figure out what sort of pressure and incentives we need to encourage the main party to behave the way we desire. In these calculations we of course must ensure we pick a major player whose primary virtues do not come in conflict with our desired virtue. Of course this still asks how can this be done? The first obvious step of course is to target the voting population that said party depends upon and instill the desired virtue in them.

That of course creates a whole new set of problems! How DOES one change a group of people's moral compass? Even a minor change can be hard.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-31T19:33:07.897Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How DOES one change a group of people's moral compass?

Look at Germany in the 1930s.

comment by HopefullyCreative · 2014-07-31T21:11:27.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually I argue that there was less change in the 1930's than most people realize. Anti Semitism goes back in Germany for centuries. This is a trend going back to the black death when whole Jewish communities were wiped out. This sentiment remained strong even in the 1930's.

Further, the Nazi party was not expressing anything the German people had not already had a connection with. An example is that the Nazi party expressed the need for an autocratic central figure or group to command and lead the nation. Germany's experience with democracy was fresh and it was associated with the exceptional economic downturn and inflation so high children played with piles of worthless money in the streets.

Of course old German sentiment was tied together with ideas that almost everyone can get behind. In a period of complete economic ruin the Nazi party came and said "Wipe those tears off your face, your better than this. I know this, you know this. Get up. You can do better. You WILL do better. I will not let you fail." You actually see this strategy used in the tv show "kitchen nightmares" by Chef Gordon Ramsey for example. There is also the community aspect that German citizens in particular were in full aggreance with.

From all of my knowledge of German history I see that the Nazi party did not instill new virtues on its people, merely commanded the German people to live up to them. Some of these we can all agree with. Hard work, diligence, responsibility, dedication to community, meaningful sacrifice. Its the others that were so dark.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-03T12:47:18.939Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually I argue that there was less change in the 1930's than most people realize. Anti Semitism goes back in Germany for centuries. This is a trend going back to the black death when whole Jewish communities were wiped out. This sentiment remained strong even in the 1930's.

Antisemitism was neither central for Hitler getting power nor was pre-1930 antisemitism much different in Germany then elsewhere in Europe.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-03T17:24:53.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, German supremacism predated Hitler and was different from the nationalism in other parts of Europe.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-03T21:01:29.647Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Given what the other nations did in terms of mistreating Africans in their colonies, I'm not sure that German nationalism that complained about having no place at the sun was worse.

comment by HalMorris · 2014-08-05T01:38:39.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The idea that Germans carried a sense of supremacy stronger than that of other peoples seems very doubtful to me. My impression is the various units that became Germany weren't particularly nationalistic until the Napoleonic wars and occupations which left behind a sense of vulnerability to the West, and also Napoleon's own kind of modernized bureaucratic government. This lead to intensified sense of "German-ness" and a zeal for "catching up" which helped inspire the German style research university (which gave the world modern industrial chemistry and modern physics, as well as some very bad philosophy).

The mid-19c was another rude shock as technology accelerated colonialism. Steamboats that could ply the rivers of Africa set off a scramble among the main colonizing nations, giving them the raw materials for a huge acceleration of economic strength.

Bismark's consolidation made turned a somewhat medieval patchwork into a nation and left the world in no doubt of its strength. Wilhelm III was a reckless spirit who did much to put Germany on course to its first great disaster.

Antisemitism was strongest in Austria not coincidentally Hitler's home. Lately, I've read from a couple of sources that Jews were about 1% of the population of Germany, but Austria had to deal with a lot of ethnicities that they once dominated.

It was 14 years from the end of WWI to Hitler's becoming Chancellor, a period of shame and humiliation, and recent and continued encounters with socialism and Communism. The atmosphere seemed to breed only extreme parties. In the interim years, Hitler's propaganda conflated Jews and Communists, and he opportunistically took advantage of a sort of sense of moral superiority which often wells up among beaten people.

Hitler, like Mussolini (whose nation also was playing "catch up" in terms of modern national forms) was able with new technology to stage mass spectacles and nationwide radio events which with his talents whipped Germany into a kind of hysterical paranoia about the rest of the world and "will" to reverse the situation.

When it comes to "gaming democracy" Weimar democracy was very peculiar. Once Hitler had a kind of figurehead power (very insecure for the first months), he could control events with his private armies, the SA and SS, whose numbers dwarfed the official army severely limited in number by the Versailles Treaty. Whether or not the Nazis set the Reichstad fire, it gave them the excuse to raise the level of paranoia and declare a state of emergency during which the Socialist and communist parties were crushed -- mostly I believe not by the regular government, but by the SA and SS.

Hitler used his private armies, a force to anarchic to be precisely controlled to destroy order in Germany. Soon after, he decapitated the SA's leadership in the "night of the long knives". Had he not, the regular army would have seen Hitler as connected with them. It was his way of declaring to the General Staff "You don't have to worry about this band of thugs pushing you out of power, you are just what I want".

Much of the persecution of Jews was extra-legal until Krystallnacht, which occurred in 11/38, four years after the night of the long knives.

An incredible amount of system gaming that we'll probably not see the like of again. Hitler started off with millions in extra-governmental forces and up-front declared intentions such that when he was placed in power, the people looked around and, as his grip tightened, were apt to say the nation elected this guy, so this is the course the nation has set itself on (even if I personally can't condone it).

There is a wide general belief that somebody could gain power talking nice and democratically with a hidden agenda, and once in that seat, the reins of government would be his -- it is the myth of the Reader's Digest version of The Road to Serfdom, which turned Hayek's reasonable arguments and fears and concerns into a paranoid fantasy (see http://whatwasthecoldwar.blogspot.com/2010/07/illustrated-comic-book-in-fact-road-to.html) for an illustrated even more condensed summary.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-05T02:41:00.795Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not talking about German Nationalism, but German Supremacism. Keep in mind the linked text was written in 1915, so while Chesterton was certainly biased, being on the opposite side of WWI, he was going by and responding to what was happening then. The relevant quote:

The nature of Pan-Germanism may be allegorised and abbreviated somewhat thus:

The horse asserts that all other creatures are morally bound to sacrifice their interests to his, on the specific ground that he possesses all noble and necessary qualities, and is an end in himself. It is pointed out in answer that when climbing a tree the horse is less graceful than the cat; that lovers and poets seldom urge the horse to make a noise all night like the nightingale; that when submerged for some long time under water, he is less happy than the haddock; and that when he is cut open pearls are less often found in him than in an oyster. He is not content to answer (though, being a muddle-headed horse, he does use this answer also) that having an undivided hoof is more than pearls or oceans or all ascension or song. He reflects for a few years on the subject of cats; and at last discovers in the cat "the characteristic equine quality of caudality, or a tail"; so that cats are horses, and wave on every tree-top the tail which is the equine banner. Nightingales are found to have legs, which explains their power of song. Haddocks are vertebrates; and therefore are sea-horses. And though the oyster outwardly presents dissimilarities which seem to divide him from the horse, he is by the all-filling nature-might of the same horse-moving energy sustained.

Now this horse is intellectually the wrong horse. It is not perhaps going too far to say that this horse is a donkey. For it is obviously within even the intellectual resources of a haddock to answer, "But if a haddock is a horse, why should I yield to you any more than you to me? Why should that singing horse commonly called the nightingale, or that climbing horse hitherto known as the cat, fall down and worship you because of your horsehood? If all our native faculties are the accomplishments of a horse--why then you are only another horse without any accomplishments." When thus gently reasoned with, the horse flings up his heels, kicks the cat, crushes the oyster, eats the haddock and pursues the nightingale, and that is how the war began.

This apologue is not in the least more fantastic than the facts of the Teutonic claim. The Germans do really say that Englishmen are only Sea-Germans, as our haddocks were only sea-horses. They do really say that the nightingales of Tuscany or the pearls of Hellas must somehow be German birds or German jewels. They do maintain that the Italian Renaissance was really the German Renaissance, pure Germans having Italian names when they were painters, as cockneys sometimes have when they are hair-dressers. They suggest that Jesus and the great Jews were Teutonic. One Teutonist I read actually explained the fresh energy of the French Revolution and the stale privileges of its German enemies by saying that the Germanic soul awoke in France and attacked the Latin influence in Germany. On the advantages of this method I need not dwell: if you are annoyed at Jack Johnson knocking out an English prize-fighter, you have only to say that it was the whiteness of the black man that won and the blackness of the white man that was beaten. But about the Italian Renaissance they are less general and will go into detail. They will discover (in their researches into 'istry, as Mr. Gandish said) that Michael Angelo's surname was Buonarotti; and they will point out that the word "roth" is very like the word "rot." Which, in one sense, is true enough. Most Englishmen will be content to say it is all rot and pass on. It is all of a piece with the preposterous Prussian history, which talks, for instance, about the "perfect religious tolerance of the Goths"; which is like talking about the legal impartiality of chicken-pox. He will decline to believe that the Jews were Germans; though he may perhaps have met some Germans who were Jews. But deeper than any such practical reply, lies the deep inconsistency of the parable. It is simply this; that if Teutonism be used for comprehension it cannot be used for conquest. If all intelligent peoples are Germans, then Prussians are only the least intelligent Germans. If the men of Flanders are as German as the men of Frankfort, we can only say that in saving Belgium we are helping the Germans who are in the right against the Germans who are in the wrong. Thus in Alsace the conquerors are forced into the comic posture of annexing the people for being German and then persecuting them for being French. The French Teutons who built Rheims must surrender it to the South German Teutons who have partly built Cologne; and these in turn surrender Cologne to the North German Teutons, who never built anything, except the wooden Aunt Sally of old Hindenburg. Every Teuton must fall on his face before an inferior Teuton; until they all find, in the foul marshes towards the Baltic, the very lowest of all possible Teutons, and worship him--and find he is a Slav. So much for Pan-Germanism.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-05T09:13:20.570Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not talking about German Nationalism, but German Supremacism.

You mean those people who chained and mistreated their slaves weren't practicing supremacism? Maybe because the people they mistreated were black and not white and Chesterton probably wouldn't have found mistreating blacks a big deal?

When you find Germans at that time saying that the English are partly German that reason to treat Englishman well and not mistreat them. I think the main issue is that you lack an idea of how other nations practiced their supremism.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-06T02:24:11.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You mean those people who chained and mistreated their slaves weren't practicing supremacism?

Which people? England, for example, had abolished slavery in most of its Empire in 1834 and fully in 1843.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-01T15:34:36.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

there was less change in the 1930's than most people realize.

That's a VERY low bar :-)

No, the moral compass in Germany in the 1930s did not rotate 180 degrees -- for that you usually need to kill a lot of people (see bolsheviks and such). But your scenario with which you started was transhumanism -- it does not require major surgery on the society's moral compass either. The magnitude of change is probably comparable to what Germany did in the 30s...

comment by avairosa · 2014-08-02T10:39:24.281Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Others have critiqued this idea on the basis that it's essentially lobbying by one interest group or another - even if you don't offer money for a campaign you can offer the votes of those people who strongly share your interests.

I'd critique it on the grounds that the triad of intelligent/politically unaffiliated/cares a great deal about this particular issue simply doesn't give you enough people to work with. Picking up people who are politically unaffiliated and have a particular passion about a political issue is much more difficult than it might seem. Most people vote on either self-interest or sacred values (or some combination of the two). Opposing homeopathy is probably a good idea, but you'd be hard-pressed to find people who can clearly see it's in their self-interest (a few million saved every year on needless treatments amounts to mere cents for them a year, most likely) or aligns with their sacred values (most people see homeopathy as stupid, not as evil).

I don't think looking into the theory of interests groups is a bad idea at all, merely that this particular technique requires issues that have significant political muscle to begin with. As a general rule I suspect good policy is better served by moving the Overton Window than by hacking various features of democracy.

comment by Froolow · 2014-08-07T10:57:23.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think - though I'm not certain - that you are right that in all but the most marginal seats you'd never find a politically unafiliated / passionate about a political issue group large enough to swing a seat. I don't think that implies that you shouldn't try to game democracy though - there are certain known flaws in the democratic system we have which exist (and swing elections) independently of whether people knowingly exploit them or not.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-03T23:51:43.025Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Opposing homeopathy is probably a good idea, but you'd be hard-pressed to find people who can clearly see it's in their self-interest (a few million saved every year on needless treatments amounts to mere cents for them a year, most likely)

It's not even that clear that there is money saved. Homeopathy provides rather cheap placebos and the people might otherwise seek more expensive treatment.

comment by Jiro · 2014-08-04T18:51:24.625Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't that raise the possibility that in order to save people's money you should encourage more homeopathy? After all, if homeopathy is overall beneficial compared to no homeopathy because people save more by using placebos than they lose in expensive treatment, wouldn't it be a pretty big coincidence that we're at exactly the optimum level of placeboness? If not, then perhaps the maximum savings happens at a rate of homeopathy that is even larger than the current one.

comment by Froolow · 2014-08-07T10:54:58.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that's certainly an interesting idea - NHS-homeopathy could be even cheaper than what is currently provided (comissioning the services off a private homeopathy provider) because we could do it in bulk - the raw ingredients aren't expensive at all. I'd worry about the indirect cost of moving the Overton Window though - at the moment we STRONGLY advise people not to use homeopathy even for trivial conditions, and we mock those that promote it. Even so, many people still use it and swear by its efficacy. If we moved to a situation where we promoted homeopathy for minor conditions and gave its practitioners the stamp of NHS/Government approval, we would see many more people using it for minor conditions and - I would expect - some people begin to use it for major conditions. Thus the money we save on prescribing a placebo over an active drug might be sucked up by the cost of treating the complications of people who take homeopathic treatments to manage AF and then get a massive stroke, for example.

But I think as a matter of principle we should set the level of homeopathy at whatever maximises the number of healthy life-years per unit of spending, even if that is not zero.

comment by DavidAgain · 2014-08-01T09:55:13.868Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the Kickstarter idea is interesting as a way to try to identify large-enough areas where a voting bloc might exist - and might make a more credible commitment than just a petition from people saying they'll vote based on something, which people might sign several of just because they support the cause. Otherwise, as people have said, this is something that pretty much exists already in various forms.

I think the fundamental problem with all the things you mention (transhumanism, homeopathy, FAI etc) is that the number of people per constituency who actually care about these enough to vote based on them would be miniscule. If this sort of thing was going to work, it would be on something with wider and more visceral appeal.

You also have to get things on the agenda - and realistically on the agenda - as well as get votes. The Government of the day sets the vast majority of what's debated, and deals with budgets etc. I therefore think this works better for things that are already being debated, and where the decision can be made somewhat independently from the broader government programme (e.g. the Eurosceptic one you mentioned). Otherwise there's little reason to think that the MP will get a chance to vote for your policy. You mention private membes Bills, but (i) they may not get one (ii) they're certainly not likely to get many, so you're asking them to give up a chance to promote their real priorities and/or build credibility with some other group. This is really unlikely, and makes defecting more likely: how many of your Kickstarters would really blame them if they raised an issue that had just emerged as a big urgent problem? (iii) they don't get passed all that often, ESPECIALLY on budgetary-type things: the science spend will already have been allocated to the Research Councils on a fairly long-term basis as part of an overall Spending Review, MPs don't very often just vote for a slug of money to go to something. You're talking about getting an exra £1bn out of the Treasury or diverting about a 30th of the already-allocated science budget: I don't see it happening.

Finally, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if that Kickstarter commitment to vote certain ways was regarded as breaking a law established to protect the secret ballot and prevent vote-rigging

comment by Decius · 2014-07-31T18:28:48.969Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Countergroup: The people who think that Transhumanist funding would better be spend elsewhere, strongly enough to engage in similar tactics.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-07-30T14:45:12.094Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a very long-winded way to re-invent the idea of a lobbying organization.

Are you really unaware of all the organizations that already operate on this model, from the NRA to religious groups to literally any organization that has organized a letter-writing campaign?

comment by devas · 2014-07-31T21:48:17.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That may be so, but it doesn't mean it might not be effective; before facebook, social networking websites hadn't really taken off, and-to give an example already in the post-fundraisers existed even before kickstarter; it doesn't mean kickstarter didn't make things easier for a lot of people.

The main draw of this kind of program, I think, is that it would remove a lot of the trivial inconveniences that come with voting, and it could work as a beeminder-like prompt for slacktivists, thereby making them actually useful.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-30T14:54:27.718Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a very long-winded way to re-invent the idea of a lobbying organization.

Actually, I think, it's just re-inventing the idea of a political party.

comment by Froolow · 2014-07-30T17:21:02.373Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think both of you are incorrect. This leverages a specific flaw in the FPTP system which wouldn't work in a PR system that gives a small, tightly coordinated group in a swing seat a disproportionate amount of power. Insofar as both political parties and lobby groups can exist in a PR system, this cannot be either of those things since it could not exist in a PR system.

More specifically, it is not a political party because (amongst other things) it has no general platform and does not seek to acquire power. It is also not a lobby group because it doesn't really 'lobby' in any meaningful sense to get the law changed. I think the example of the NRA is a red herring - it is hard to believe the NRA is well-enough coordinated to get a large number of its members to vote for a party they don't like. Do you have any evidence they have ever been successful at swinging a seat in this way?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-30T17:51:38.354Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Names don't matter much here. The basic idea is to pressure a political candidate by promising him a voting block which you assert you can deliver and that is entirely standard operating procedure in contemporary democracies. It's very commonly done by unions in municipal elections, for example.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-07-30T18:59:55.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most successful groups actually exercise influence through get-out-the-vote. That is, instead of having 60% of people who favor candidate X anyways to vote, they get 80% to vote and change the minds of 5% of people favoring candidate Y, within the single-issue group. The result is still a large impact; the NRA is very successful at this, and combined with it's legal and policy work, substantially influences national legislation.

The NRA is HUGE and well-coordinated, and by most reasonable measures has "won" it's policy battles consistently.

Targeting close districts is also an old strategy, but targeting primaries can produce higher yields since people are more amenable to switching votes between candidates within their favored party than to abandoning their party.